To satisfy the reader emotionally, a good ending is as important as a good beginning. Readers should not finish our stories with a bad taste or a feeling of something left in the air. Whether the endings are expected, surprising, or unpredictable, our stories should leave the readers feeling glad that they spent time reading them.
To illustrate the several types of endings, let’s imagine we already have written a story with the protagonist John, antagonist Edward, and a third conflict-causing character or love interest, Millicent.
Hollywood Ending: This is the happy ending where the hero will get the girl or win over a villain and bring peace to the planet.
Into John’s eyes filled the light from the flicker of the Christmas decorations when Millicent handed him a glass of eggnog. “Edward is gone for good,” she said.
John put the eggnog on the table and led Millicent by the hand, until he stopped her under the mistletoe.
Ironic Ending: This is the bittersweet ending when the hero may win with a loss with a sort of Pyrrhic victory or may win in losing. Sometimes, stories in literary and mystery genres use this type of ending.
“I can’t stay with you with all the ugliness,” Millicent said, tears bursting from her eyes and stinging her vision. “So much hate, so much blood… No one is left from my family, but here’s the computer chip I took from Edward before he died. You can have it for whatever it is worth.”
Like a famished desperado, John grasped the chip and ambled into the headquarters. Just before entering the building, he turned back to capture one last lovely image inside his memory, Millicent unlocking her car door.
Tragic Ending: The hero loses and the antagonist wins or they both die, but even if the conflict is resolved at Hero’s expense, the argument in the story idea is confirmed.
Edward lay rigid on the cold tile his eyes wide open, staring like two glass beads at the ceiling. He was dead.
John, too, was on the ground, bleeding. He uttered his last words. “We did get him. He won’t hurt anybody anymore.”
Millicent sobbed, buckling down at the threshold.
Surprise Ending: The surprise lies in a twist or a revelation that changes the understanding of the trajectory or the spirit of the story. If skillfully carried out, this type of ending is the most successful.
“I find it hysterical that you were so mistaken,” Millicent chuckled, unlocking the trigger. “I now know you, the district attorney of the Cayola County, were the real thief who stole Lady Ashley’s diamond. But a significant fact escaped you, the fact that Edward is my husband, not Lady Ashley’s.”
John bent his head, waiting for the gun to fire. Never in his life, had he suffered so much fear, even after having sent several people to their deaths.
Vague or Undefined Ending: This is when the story is left open-ended, leaving the reader imagining what could happen. This type of ending is not very effective with most genres, except for horror.
“Now that Edward is resting in eternity, are you going to come back?” John reached out for Millicent. Millicent, however, faded away into the fog, waving good-bye.
John turned around and trudged away from the graveyard, not noticing Millicent’s slender outline of a ghost following him.
Whichever way we choose to end the story, we must make the ending memorable, so it will be remembered long after the story is put aside, as Margaret Mitchell has written in Gone With the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”